Tag Archives: Movie review

THE DARK TAPES (2017) by Dee Emm Elms

[98 minutes. Not rated. Directors: Vincent J. Guastini, Michael McQuown]

As soon as I finished watching the horror film The Dark Tapes, I realized that I had a big problem as a movie reviewer. I wanted to immediately get the word out to encourage other people to find the movie and see it – but I also didn’t want to give much of anything about it away to anyone. I came into the movie almost completely cold, and that’s how I think everyone should see it. And, believe me, I think everyone should see it. Just watch it. It’s that good. But for those who need more convincing, I’m offering as much of a spoiler-free review here as I can. That’s how much I want you to see The Dark Tapes.

In telling you that this movie joins the ranks of The Blair Witch ProjectThe Poughkeepsie Tapes, and Alien Abduction, you can probably guess that The Dark Tapes is a found-footage movie. The title kind of gives it away. And let me add that before pressing “Play” on my remote control, I thought the title seemed uninspired and bland. After watching it, I realized that the title is perfect, and I wouldn’t want anyone to make a change. Its rather-generic name belies its contents, which is kind of a central theme to much of the movie – that what you see isn’t what you get, that conventions can and will be subverted in ways a viewer may not expect, and that sometimes it’s the most unassuming things that can hide the biggest and most sinister secrets.

So many found-footage movies try to compensate for a limited budget by being loud and shocking. They throw things at the camera over and over, or feature loud “stinger” sound effects or screams to hide the hollowness of their contents.  The people who made The Dark Tapes know this, and they play with the audience’s expectations of this in a variety of ways throughout the movie. I didn’t jump in my seat even once during The Dark Tapes, and if you think that’s a bad thing… well, I submit that you don’t know much about horror beyond its ability to provide the odd adrenal rush.

The Dark Tapes is about the horror of dawning realization. It’s about the horror of creeping dread. Right from the first segment, it draws your interest and makes you question what it is you’re seeing. It drops you right into its world. That could be a weakness for less-aware filmmakers, but I suspect it’s done here with definitive intent. Because from the first moment to the last, The Dark Tapes pulls off a trick that only the absolute best found-footage movies can manage: keeping you in that perfect horror movie moment where you’re in a state of perpetual dread, in that feeling you get when you hear the clickity-clack ride up the roller coaster… right before the big drop. Except that The Dark Tapes isn’t about the big drop. It’s about the ride climbing and climbing… and then coming to a sudden stop, and leaving you there – waiting for a more existential drop. With The Dark Tapes, you don’t get to release the tension the movie builds until after you finish the movie. This film leaves you halfway up the climb – perhaps suspended there, perhaps hanging upside-down, and waiting for a rescue that you know in the back of your mind just isn’t coming because that’s not how the world really works. In the world of The Dark Tapes, there’s something deeply wrong with the roller coaster we’re all on, and observing how and why – unspoiled – is one of the movie’s great pleasures.

Credit directors Vincent J. Guastini and Michael McQuown for making beautiful use of budgetary limitations. The Dark Tapes reportedly cost around $65,000 to make, but you wouldn’t know it from watching because this movie shows how creative people can overcome the shortcomings of any budget. So much work, craft, and care are evident, and special note should be made of McQuown’s clear expertise at editing that brings all these well-crafted elements together – they not only transcend typical found footage movies, but horror movies in general. In The Dark Tapes, you get a film that takes you on a journey from calm to chaos and back with the guiding hand of someone truly creative who knows what they’re doing and isn’t wasting a second of what you see onscreen. And, in a way, even that deft editing could be interpreted as something sinister. But I’ve said too much already.

Performances throughout The Dark Tapes are natural when they’re supposed to be, and unnatural when… well, let’s say when you’re dealing with the unnatural. Again, my desire to keep your experience undiluted prevents me from saying much else.

However, I do want to give praise to Cortney Palm as Nicole Fallek, and David Roundtree as Martin Callahan. Both play characters who are dealing with fear, panic, and realization – while also keeping their heads in bizarre circumstances. Like everything else about The Dark Tapes, their work displays a delicate balancing act that ramps up the tension while remaining believable. Future found-footage moviemakers could learn a lot by observing how these two performers play out their reactions to what they’re experiencing.

I want to, mysteriously perhaps, levy praise on a pair of elements: the visible and audible in-movie work of Guastini, McQuown, and Ryan Allen Young that I simply can’t reveal further without spoiling. The things I’m talking about literally gave me goosebumps on five different occasions. You’ll know them when you see and hear them. And, if you’re like me, you’ll never forget them.

Likewise, I don’t think you’ll forget The Dark Tapes. It’s a movie made by legitimate talents that gets at the heart of what makes movies scary, and what makes horror movies both unnerving and delightful. When the film ended, I felt like I could watch five more movies set in the world of The Dark Tapes, each telling different stories. If more is to come, I’ll be waiting – with a blanket pulled over my head in that mix of anticipation and fear.

Because in the world of The Dark Tapes, the truth isn’t out there – it’s right behind you.

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Dee Emm Elms was born in 1972 in Glens Falls, New York. Dee writes about many subjects ranging from social justice issues to Lost In Space, and often mixes them together. Her favorite topic is horror, and horror movies in particular. Her novel Sidlings may be read at sidlings.com, and she would be pleased for you to check it out.  Dee may be contacted at her email sidlingsnovel@gmail.com, or her Twitter: @d_m_elms.

(Movie poster from Teaser Trailer. Dee Emm Elms photo via Dee Emm Elms.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (2017)

The Last Knock

It’s hard to believe that the oppressive creepfest, The Eyes of My Mother is the feature film debut of writer/director Nicholas Pesce. Using black-and-white digital photography to capture the mood, we follow Francisca (Kika Magalhaes and Olivia Bond) on her coming of age journey that goes horribly wrong. The Eyes of My Mother is a dramatic horror of unsettling proportions, and we’ll go behind the story to bring you the story…

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@thenickpesce @evepaludan @kicksindamix @GuyRicketts @MagnetReleasing @MissDeAnnah @willbrill @cultmetalflix @ClaraJWong @MelanieMcCurdie @paulnazak @machinemeannow @RealJillyG @Barry_Cinematic @AmandaBergloff @palkodesigns @InnerGhosts @LianeMoonRaven @HellInSpace @NathanStrack @ThomasOtterman @Kent_Harper @FriscoKidTX @LoudGreenBird @dixiefairy @RonGizmo

QUARRIES (2017) by Billy Crash

You know those pathetic horror films, usually slashers, where the unsuspecting victims get the best of their antagonists only to beat up on them before freaking out and running away so the guy can get up again and hunt them down?

This isn’t one of those.

Directed and co-written by Nils Taylor, Quarries brings together a group of women on a two-week sojourn through New England’s mountainous wooded region. Posed to learn more about themselves, or to divorce themselves from the stress of life, Jean (Sarah Mornell) the experience backpacker and leader of the group, is matched only by Joy (Joy McElveen) and her former military service. The women are the strongest and most capable, while the remaining five are clearly inexperienced and may not realize how hard Mother Nature can be.

Although an ensemble, the narrative focuses on Kat (Nicole Marie Johnson, who co-wrote the script), a woman escaping from an abusive relationship who bears its most recent physical wounds. Unlike the others, she came late to the party and failed to undergo her two-days of mandatory wilderness training.

What the women have to face in Quarries is far worse than what the woods can throw at them because where Mother Nature is indiscriminate, someone sets their sites on targeting the group.

It’s easy to say we’ve seen this movie time and time again. From The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes to I Spit On Your Grave and the Wrong Turn franchise, as well as last year’s Carnage Park and, most evidently, The Descent, the idea of backwoods mayhem at the hands of man – or even mutants – has provided us with a sub-genre of the slasher realm. Films from Sweden, France, and Spain have also explored this “traveler beware” vein.

One can easily argue the strength of some of these movies, but at times we really don’t get a chance to know the characters, and many are “red shirts,” such as the wayward college students in almost any slasher. Due to the emotional disconnect, many viewers can’t wait to see who gets killed and how creative their deaths are going to be since these stock characters of jock, bully, manipulator, and more, are simply disposable – except for the stock “Final Girl.”

Again, Quarries offers a different take by establishing a heavy dose of realism and character depth that ramps up the suspense and leaves us concerned about those being hunted instead of cheering when they might go down.

Quarries is low budget venture, and we know how those can go. Quite often, someone has an idea that falls under the slasher, supernatural, or ultra-cheap found footage umbrella, and they crank it out. Hell, anyone can these days thanks to easy access to low cost equipment and software. Most so-called filmmakers, however, have no business shooting a birthday party for a little kid. Quarries has made clear that little money doesn’t mean a sacrifice in quality.

Regardless of budget, Nils Taylor and company made certain to do everything right. First and foremost, there are no bad actors. Each person “brings it” and delivers a definitive performance worthy of an audience’s investment as they all undergo a series of emotions in their test of survival. Johnson proves to be a formidable lead actress right away, and Carrie Finklea shines as Wren, the young women who has let her own trials and tribulations seemingly get the best of her in self-destructive fashion. None of the characters are stock, and even if they share some attributes to the tried and true, each women shares a different side of themselves when the environment changes instead of falling back on what seems to be their character’s sole foundation. And like most of us who give up some information about ourselves only to leave a bit of mystery behind in our wake, the characters do so as well in genuine fashion.

John Woodside’s cinematography is often amazing, keeping the action tight with close-ups and medium shots, and only pulling the camera back to establish distance. And the view of the Appalachians is not only stunning, but shows us the dichotomy of how isolated our protagonists are in such a vast region. A solid musical score that enhances the visuals and the action in Quarries instead of distracting us from them comes from more than capable composer Isaias Garcia. David Jacox and David C. Keith deliver the all-important editing, and Cody Davis, the stunt choreographer as well as an actor in the film, keeps the fight scenes hard, bold, and relentless. All of this is thanks to Nils Taylor for directing this cinematic excursion so damn well.

One can allude to this group of seven as the Seven Samurai or the American retelling as The Magnificent Seven, but the former didn’t choose the fight and had no training to combat attackers. They are every day women going through all the emotions and stresses that most of us do, yet they were all put in a position where they had to stand up or perish, which certainly outweighs 9 to 5 drudgery, money trouble, and family issues.

My former Kearny High School psychology teacher in New Jersey once said in class, “Anyone can kill. It’s just that not everyone has been in a situation where they’ve had to kill.” And in Quarries, the women may just have to do that to survive. This doesn’t mean morality is thrust by the wayside, but when “kill or be killed” is the mantra, one had best stand tall and fight with abandon, or it will be the last mistake one ever makes. Even if one does go down, the old saying “better to die on your feet than live on your knees” takes on a whole new meaning.

Keep in mind that Quarries is not a “feminist women getting back at misogynist men” tale, but a group of women simply fighting predators to live another day. To get on with their lives. To know their true strength, and to understand that they can now handle any stressor that comes their way because they’ve faced the ultimate battle. This is a rite of passage few of us get to endure. Whether male or female, we can live vicariously through their venture and experience such a gauntlet. But for most of us, we’ll still wonder if we can pass the test.

Don’t miss the interview with QuarriesNils Taylor, Nicole Marie Johnson, and Laura Small of D!amond Cutter Films, and Melanie Wise of the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival. And visit the Quarries‘ site.

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on TwitterLinkedInIMDbAmazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Dog Soldiers Buffy from Dog Soldiers Wikia.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: GET OUT (2017)

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Get Out has captured the minds of many, and even non-horror fans are discussing the themes and message of Jordan Peele’s debut as writer/director. We’ll take a look at the entire film, which means one big time spoiler alert looms on the horizon. Has Get Out lived up to the hype? Maybe it has, maybe it’s one of the most socially conscientious films ever in the horror genre – or maybe it’s just another movie. Check in, listen to our break down of themes, imagery, and so much more, and find out for yourself…

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@JordanPeele @LifeofComics @DanielKaluuya_ @RegalMovies @TraCee_tr @LilRel4 @jamiebernadett @FYFCStudios @RonGizmo @DreadCentral @VicsMovieDen @Talk2Cleo @IndieWire @PromoteHorror @GetOutMovie @LoudGreenBird

Let us know what you think of this show, the last show, and the one before that. Hell, we have nearly 250 to choose from…

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Extreme Horror – Abuse of Power

The Last Knock

It’s part two of our EXTREME SERIES with the most excellent William Meeker discussing “Abuse of Power”! We’ll look at some of horror cinema’s most disturbing entries where arrogant bastards think they’re better than anybody else – and unleash the trauma. We dissect the stories, break them down into select parts, and throw the rest into the garbage – so you won’t have to. What EXTREME SERIES films made this list? Listen in and find out…

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@MelanieMcCurdie @shilohfernandez @ScreamHorrorMag @kidblue @RealJillyG @FangTheJester @JennySpain @dixiefairy @WoodyAllenDaily @DarkCorners3 @DavidKoechner @Israel_Finn @Sara_Paxton @TheNightGallery @Pat_Healy @RonGizmo @d_m_elms @EmbryEthan @BleedingCritic @Pascal_Laugier @ScarecrowVideo @AFiendOnFilm @Trent_Haaga @RSBrzoska and Paul J. Williams

The EXTREME SERIES always includes special guest, film aficionado, William Meeker! You can find his remarks and reviews on film, from horror to science fiction, at Loud Green Bird, and follow him on Twitter as well.

THE LAST KNOCK presents: XX (2017)

The Last Knock

The guys sit down with writer and author Thomas S. Flowers to discuss the all-women writers and directors of the horror anthology, XX. The trio looks at story, theme, and element of maternal tales that permeate this foursome of short films. Learn what worked, what didn’t, and why we’re hoping for XX part two.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@DreadCentral @Theaterofscifi @DeniseGossett @Shriekfest @PromoteHorror @badchopsuey2 @Scream_Factory @MFFHorrorCorner @Vinyl_Film @DarkMoonComic @inthenightdoc @DonRiemer @DinoBarlaam @MexBarbaroFilm @Jorgemichelgrau @HorrorGuerrero @EdgarNito @IsaacEzban @LoretinaSoy @JohnKassir @MagnetReleasing @MagnoliaPics @Brownnmiss @JovankaVuckovic @XXtheMovie @roxanne73 @karynkusama @st_vincent @sheilaYvand @breedawool @melanielynskey @TheBabadook @AgirlWalksHome @LisaReneePitts @FriscoKidTX @LoudGreenBird @IamMelanieWise @ArtemisPics @Artemis_FF

You can find Thomas S. Flowers on his website, Machinemean.org, on Twitter, and on Amazon.

THE LAST KNOCK presents: THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007)

The Last Knock

John Erick Dowdle’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes is one of horror filmdom’s “Unholy Grails” and a snipe hunt rolled into one. On its ten-year anniversary, we take a look at the film that came with a trailer but an ultra-limited release before being pulled from theaters. The only way to get feature is as a bootleg. So what’s this mockumentary about, and is it worth purchasing illegally until the Dowdle brothers give us a legitimate release? We’ll have some answers – and we invite John and Drew to come on the show and tell us why in Hell The Poughkeepsie Tapes is in distribution purgatory.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@unclerayscrazy @MelanieMcCurdie @dvdinfatuation @SusanontheLedge @HershelGreene1 @GuyRicketts @JessicaCameron_ @AFiendOnFilm @IamMelanieWise ‪@ArtemisPics ‪@Artemis_FF @RealJillyG @RonGizmo @FANGORIA @dixiefairy @ScreamHorrorMag @Israel_Finn @SlaughteredBird @CrypticPictures @dkarner @TheFearMerchant @SpookyMovies @d_m_elms @RSBrzoska @jedowdle @DrewDowdle @Rodney_Ascher @TheNightmareDoc @LanceWeiler @TheTunnelMovie @allorange @TMZ @Scream_Factory @ArrowFilmsVideo @blunderground @JodorowskysDune @CANAL_Factory and Paul J. Williams

“I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley” – SPLIT (2017) from Jonny Numb

[118 minutes. PG-13. Director: M. Night Shyamalan]

***This review contains SPOILERS***

While obvious, it bears repeating: M. Night Shyamalan hit hard with the Oscar-nominated The Sixth Sense in 1999. With the auteur put on a high pedestal so early in his career, it’s easy to imagine his subsequent films getting tripped up in a game of matching – if not exceeding – what came before. I can’t speak to Shyamalan’s post-Signs output, but Split bears the hallmarks of a director making a desperate bid to recapture his former glory.

But maybe “desperate” isn’t the right word, as Split will have bypassed the $100-million mark (on a $10 million budget, no less) by the time this review is published.

In a role that a younger Johnny Depp might have jumped at, James McAvoy plays Kevin, a man with “23 distinct personalities,” who kidnaps a trio of teenage girls – Boss Mean Girl Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Middle Manager Mean Girl Marcia (Jessica Sula), and Obligatory Basket Case Casey (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy) – because…well, that would be giving it away.

But wait a second…is it possible to spoil something that’s already rotten? Now there’s a paradox for ya.

Considering how well-crafted The Sixth Sense was – lining up characters and events for unexpectedly touching plot crescendos – Split is a special kind of disaster to behold: from concept to execution to the seemingly endless wait for the third-act twist, it’s afflicted by a throw-shit-against-the-wall approach that not only drastically diminishes its thriller potential, but comes off as callous in its depiction of mental illness.

In the same year as The Sixth Sense, Fight Club garnered controversy not only for its “depiction of anti-social behavior” (per the MPAA content descriptor), but its use of a similar plot twist. Unlike Split, however, Fight Club justified its madness as a reflection of a greater cultural malaise, with a character who acknowledged his complicity in the twisted world he’d (semi-consciously) created. Director David Fincher didn’t make allowances or justifications for the behavior on display, and, by rejecting Hollywood convention, the film became a generational firebrand – infuriating complacent, middle-aged critics while appealing to youth on the cusp of adult responsibility.

As thrillers go, Split sets up a game with essential pieces missing…and a board that’s been cut in half. If there’s any subtext worthy of greater analysis, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a wide-release movie with such goggle-eyed, baffled performances (the teenage cast gets the worst of it, though Betty Buckley’s psychiatrist doesn’t fare much better). Adding insult to injury, Shyamalan ogles the partially-clad females in a manner that borders on the “windowless van” club.

There are moments where our girls, trapped in McAvoy’s subterranean house of horrors, suggest rushing their captor, but are more than willing to sit (again, goggle-eyed) while he does his Johnny Depp thing. Also not-good: how the two Mean Girls insist that Basket Case is “one of them” despite their ostracizing her at a birthday party. Sloppy.

For a film that includes plot points hinging on the one-two punch of child molestation and murder, Shyamalan seems oblivious to how tasteless this story really is, but goes about business in an inexplicably cavalier (and inexplicably PG-13) manner. As long as you don’t show the bad thing happening, it’s okay. Yeesh.

I never thought I’d see the day when Peter Jackson’s woefully misguided The Lovely Bones came off as a tasteful-by-comparison rendering of similar themes, but here we are.

Just as offensive is Shyamalan’s depiction of mental illness. The trailer for Split – leaning heavily on McAvoy’s persona­-swapping – put a bothersome twist in my guts, and what the film does with this, in addition to being incredibly confusing, also sends messages that are deadly mixed. I can’t in good conscience praise McAvoy’s performance, which amounts to an aimless string of vignettes (including – god help us – a hip-hop dance number) left untethered by a story that has no fucking clue what it wants to be. By the end, the only thing made clear is that McAvoy was cast for a purely commercial reason (tying in to his X-Men tenure). And the closing decree – that “damaged” people are the most “pure” of all – carries no consolation and even less truth, especially after McAvoy’s ultimate personality goes on a kill-crazy rampage. By that point, Shyamalan’s thoroughly wrongheaded approach has also equated the mentally ill with zoo animals – dangerous, and only suited to cages. Toxic.

Talk about a movie that would please the current Administration. Maybe that’s why Split is doing so well with audiences: its pervasive ineptitude and zero-tolerance policy against The Other is just what Trump’s cronies are seeking in their quest to “make America great again.”

1 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) only plays favorites when it comes to review sites like Crash Palace Productions and loudgreenbird.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.

(Split photo from PopSugar.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: JACK GOES HOME on the TRAIN TO BUSAN

The Last Knock

It’s another Horror Double-header: Jack Goes Home and Train to Busan. We’re sure you’ve heard of the latter, but poor Jack hasn’t gotten his due. We’ll give you the low down, the high points, and more as we discuss this offbeat pair from a heady psychological horror to a zombie disaster on a KTX. So kick back, relax, and enjoy the train ride to Busan with Jack as your passenger. No tickets necessary – but don’t even think of jumping for it because we’re crushing it at 187 mph (300 kph).

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@RealJillyG @JoeEliseon @WriterMichelleB @DeadWood2012 @isaacrthorne @ZADF_ORG @CarlPopEye @drawnofthedead @ZombieDoug @RonGizmo @fullmoonhorror @RealCharlesBand @palkodesigns @KeyzKeyzworth @OwenMcCuenQuest @HorrorTalk @Lndnknts @ALOLMOVIE @TheWalkingDead @dixiefairy @RSBrzoska @LoudGreenBird @d_m_elms @JackGoesHome @theThomasDekker @roryhugh @linshaye @NikkiReed_I_Am @Ceiri_Composer @Momentum_Pics

Sinners in the Hands of an Indifferent God – CARNAGE PARK (2016) by Jonny Numb

(Author’s Note: this article is not intended as an endorsement or condemnation of Christian belief. Mentions of God and Christ will defer to the pronoun “he.”)

This review contains SPOILERS.

“The coin don’t have no say.” – Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald), No Country for Old Men

There’s a scene following a bank heist that’s ripped straight out of Reservoir Dogs.

There’s opening narration by loony loner Wyatt (Pat Healy) that waxes moral and existential, not unlike the opening narration by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) in No Country for Old Men.

There’s an attention to production design and gritty staging that winks at the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes (the gore also shows a flair for traditional, in-camera FX over CGI).

With Carnage Park, Mickey Keating is going for his Tarantino homage (or, maybe more accurately, the films that Tarantino homages). Granted, the indie-movie landscape never really stopped being littered with posers trying – and almost always failing – to craft their own unique Reservoir Dogs (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, anyone?). So to pay tribute to a film that’s a cornerstone of savvy-cool-ironic-iconic was bound to struggle against a wave of preexisting imitators and the challenge of extracting something unique from a well-worn premise.

For what it’s worth – and to give Carnage’s critics some credit – the film doesn’t touch its influences. It’s also a fair distance from the aesthetic and narrative complexity of Darling, Keating’s previous film.

That being said, it’s still a worthwhile ride…but not for the (visceral) reasons genre fans will expect.

The originality that emerges from all of Carnage’s borrowed parts is curiously existential (in the Cormac McCarthy, No Country vein): if there is an omniscient “God” monitoring creation, where and when is his role in intervention? Does he owe humankind anything? And how can he ignore a world in which awful things happen with disturbing regularity?

Keating is too tasteful a filmmaker to allow his concept to unravel into glorified sadism (see Rob Zombie’s similarly-themed 31), and there is a bizarre innocence at the heart of Carnage: when financially desperate farm girl Vivian (Ashley Bell – The Last Exorcism) is abducted by Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hebert – Gangster Squad) following a botched bank robbery, we are given the immediate impression that both characters are in over their heads. Vivian is resourceful and assertive, while Joe is all violent swagger; both are oblivious to their roles in the world outside of their immediate circumstances, which is perhaps why, once the violence of the situation relents, they are able to share in an eerily even-toned dialog.

From the initial panoramic montage of open hills and sky, Keating establishes a sense of the existential: yet for all the open space, Carnage Park never seems to wander beyond its tight, character-based intimacy. (Given the grandiose title, perhaps the biggest surprise is that the violence is doled out with erratically-paced deliberation.) Does this require a suspension of disbelief in that Wyatt could preside over miles and miles of desolate terrain? Sure. But it also brings some intriguing observations to the surface.

The skyline – seen mostly from a “puny mortal staring upward” POV – is punctuated by bright light pressing through clusters of clouds. Characters’ pleas for rescue fall on deaf ears, suggesting an omniscient sadism that correlates to the homicidal mischief perpetrated by Wyatt (who intones, right at the beginning: “Out here, God don’t play favorites”). One early scene in particular – of Vivian tumbling out of a car, handcuffed to a very dead Scorpion Joe – glares from an overhead POV as she cries for help (to no avail). Vivian is our conduit for empathy, but her efforts to assist random victims (played by Darby Stanchfield and Larry Fessenden) are either thwarted by an off-screen Wyatt, or left behind and forgotten in the name of her own survival. She can’t save the family farm, or anybody else; she’s in a no-win situation where self-preservation takes precedence over altruism.

Complementing the Alice in Wonderland tone Keating establishes early on, the film’s idiosyncrasies possess a randomness that still feels reflective of the real world. Instead of devolving into a Saw-styled funhouse of torture devices, the landscape of Carnage Park is a string of mournful monuments to death and decay (including a nod to Christ’s crucifixion). This is reflective of Wyatt’s opening narration about the government closing mental institutions and leaving veterans damaged from war (mentally and otherwise) to wither on the vine. As a “fuck you” to the bureaucracy, his dried-up chunk of the American Dream being used as the equivalent of General Zaroff’s playground isn’t off base.

Even the spray-painted “God’s Country” sign on the gate of Wyatt’s property is presented without irony, and establishes him as judge, jury, and executioner of this contained world. The fact that his sheriff brother, John (Alan Ruck – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), is not only complicit in covering up his crimes, but also intimidated and emasculated in his homicidal brother’s presence, is a testament to their shared psychosis.

At the bridge between the second and third act, Vivian finds herself in a shack (adorned with macabre, homemade wind chimes and lawn ornaments – another Texas Chainsaw echo) that, for all intents and purposes, is Wyatt’s command center. She’s taunted via CB radio, and when she asks, “Who are you?” the straightness with which Wyatt answers, “Me? I’m nobody” delivers a chill on par with the everywhere-at-all-times presence he’s exhibited up to that point. Perhaps it’s a reach, but if Christ or Satan visited planet Earth today (in the most literal sense), it makes a certain amount of sense that they would walk among humanity incognito, rather than drawing excessive attention to themselves.

I’m not sure I can rationalize Wyatt as an analogue for Christ or Satan – Keating’s treatment of the character and Healy’s performance renders him almost innocuous –  but he judges his fellow humans based on his own perception (the film is light on explicit psychological insight). Does Scorpion Joe, with all his macho bluster, get a bullet to the head because of his lack of humility in the presence of someone – or something – greater than him? What of Wyatt’s absurd kindness (“HOW YA DOIN’?”) when he first meets Vivian? And what, especially, of Vivian getting the drop on Wyatt midway through, only for him to seemingly rise from the dead? “God’s Country,” indeed…

In an interesting aesthetic choice, Keating chooses to obscure Wyatt with a gasmask during the last half of the film, which raises the question: if John was covering up his actions, then who is to say that Wyatt also didn’t have other men prowling the hills? It seems unlikely that a solo sniper could orchestrate all of the sinister tableaus on display (including a camouflaged vehicle dumping-ground), given the area that would need to be covered. Also noteworthy: outside of the scene at the gate, there’s no definitive indicator as to where Wyatt’s land begins or ends; another subtle allusion to nature’s arbitrary boundaries, as well as the intangible, subjective spiritual boundaries that distance God from humankind.

An explanation that dances around the edges of Carnage Park is the possibility that Vivian, not unlike Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has been so driven to madness that her POV is unreliable by the end. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold much weight, as the film is initiated by Wyatt’s narration (and his murder of an unrelated victim). Nonetheless, I love Keating’s approach to the ending, which excises the deus ex machina of the Black Marina savior from Texas Chainsaw in favor of something as simple as a literal light at the end of a tunnel. While this may fluster some viewers, I found it perfect – in a place where God doesn’t play favorites, it’s up to us to find our way out of dire situations, whether self-imposed or foisted upon us.

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) only plays favorites when it comes to review sites like Crash Palace Productions and loudgreenbird.com.  He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.

(Carnage Park photo from AV Club.)